Sunday, November 18, 2007

Mutiny on the Beas - or - Relentlessly partisan

I shall have others who will need no compulsion to follow their leader. If you wish to turn back now, you are at liberty to do so – and you may tell your people that you deserted your leader in the midst of his enemies.

The PM speaking to Alexander Downer back during the September showdown at the OPEC corral? Not quite. Replace “leader” with “king” and you have Alexander of Macedon addressing his troops at the Beas River, somewhere near to modern Lahore, Pakistan, 325 BCE. His troops, now ten years down the track from the Macedonia they’d left, had finally woken up to the fact that this bloke was going on forever and were going no further unless it was in a direction of their choosing.

The similarities, war aside, are strong. Alexander got his way and his troops went homewards – via some dozen more peoples as yet unconquered. Howard got his way too: he followed his troops’ wishes and caved to a “succession”. He, though it must surely have galled him, acknowledged it publicly. And he will lead his troops into another battle.

The point of difference being that where as Alexander went on to visit his frightful pique upon the Indian cities unfortunate enough to be on his “path home”, occasioning massacres and murder, Howard will march on, hubristic hat in place and take his troops to a hiding. And, should the ALP only just get there – seventeen to twenty seats – a hiding it will still be. Howard will have, in a period of three years, converted a large and – in conventional thinking – unassailable majority, within a single term, into a spanking loss.

The poisoned chalice of a Senate majority is, in large part, what will haunt this government to the tally room next Saturday night. Howard was first to declare that such a majority would not be wielded with hubris. He was, surely, also the first to recognise the unparalleled opportunity that had been presented to him: no negotiations, no Dems to dialogue with, what I can get the party room to stomach is law. Within weeks the long cherished industrial relations agenda was taking shape. It bore no resemblance to the pie in the sky nebulous statements of the campaign platform document. It bore no relationship to the claims of the PM during the campaign that no extension of the WorkChoices legislation was planned.

By November of 2005 it was done and dusted. The new WorkChoices would be in place by March 2006. Like it or lump it. It transpired that large swathes of the electorate wanted to lump it then as they do now. Hubris? None at all if the PM bombastically declaring that there would be no changes to his legislation, no further negotiation and no addition of any unneeded safety-nets ranks as self-effacing, humble language.

The was no need for any “further” safety net – further than those award conditions left standing. The safety net – enforced on the government by a “hung” Senate in 1996 – was summarily removed by the new legislation.

Not even Howard realised how badly it made the government smell. Further, he failed to realise that such behaviour had become rather the modus operandi of his government. The image of high handed rule coupled with a seeming absolute lack of accountability in ministerial behaviour painted a picture of arrogance. An arrogance heightened by a listless and abysmal opposition.

In 2006 Howard again passed up the opportunity of “generational change” and rebuffed his deputy. He was going nowhere and largely did not care how this played in the public arena as come 2007 there’d be Kim waiting to be done over…again.

Throughout the back-end of 2006 the ACTU trial ran its anti WorkChoices campaign. It bit and continues to bite. The Howard government, led by the PM, declared it to be totally partisan and utterly misleading. Howard continued to insist throughout the later part of the year that no changes were needed to his legislation and nor would they be.

That all began to change after the ALP dumped Kim for RevKev, the “revolution” candidate. By the close of the first quarter of 2007, trailing hopelessly in the polls, the stench of WorkChoices had made its way into the executive offices of Parliament House. Come May Howard, likely as galled (if not more) as he would be in September, announced that he’d discovered the requirement for a “fairness test” in his legislation. Too late. Far too late.

The PM is in a pickle entirely of his own making. He had no intention of “listening” to “the people” until it was shoved down his hearing aid by poll after interminable poll. The internal party polling will only have shoved it further.

His ego and hubris has left him open to what, eighteen months ago, would have been considered nigh impossible: a flogging. His government, stripped of its mojo and poll numbers, looking for all the world like the US fleet limping out of Tassafaronga Strait in 1942, has lurched through this election year and this campaign largely stumped. Nothing it has done has altered the consistent numbers running against it. The government’s primary vote is as consistently poor as the ALP’s is strong in every poll taken this last year. It does not indicate a “soft vote” for the ALP. That path is thinking along the lines of the electorate exercising some "Australian humour".

Three years ago the electorate looked longingly, for a period, at what it thought to be a credible alternative. It wasn't but that should have sounded alarm bells. This time the poll numbers and their consistency suggest the electorate's found it.

Should the poll numbers prove correct on election day, the stench of WorkChoices and the arrogance of the government that pushed it will become the stench of the government's corpse. The Liberal Party can look back on their Senate majority and ponder how wisely they used it. Then they can look at their defeated leader, the beligerent barnacle that refused to move aside “for the good of the party”; that preferred instead to arrogantly stare down his “shoulder tappers” and call for blood on the floor.

The coterie of Liberal tresantes (Spartan for "tremblers", those who disgraced themselves in the phalanx ranks) proved exactly that in September: they blinked. Barring a huge shift in voter sentiment, there appear to be few tresantes in the electoral phalanx bearing down upon the government forces and the Prime Ministerial guards.

Perhaps back in September he again echoed Alexander. Perhaps when Downer likely informed him that he’d lost the support of a substantial section of the party room and that if Downer were Howard he’d step aside for the good of the party, Howard replied “I would too, were I Alexander Downer”.

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Blogger Jacob A. Stam said...


That's it!!!

That's the slogan that's been missing from the sloganarama of this loooooong campaign...

"It's time ... for the Kevolution!!!"

No, you wo-oh-n't fool the children of the Kevolution...!!!

18/11/07 11:23 PM  
Blogger Father Park said...

Nah nah nooo.

RevKev and the Kevolution

Got to be a hit album there somewhere?

18/11/07 11:30 PM  
Blogger Jacob A. Stam said...

“I would too, were I Alexander Downer.”

That's a wonderful line!

Even if it never happened, it should go in the script of the movie, which must be made.

I see a climactic scene similar to the scene in Nixon where Dick asks Kissinger, "Let's pray, Henry..."

- - - - - - - - - -

Howard: "Why do they hate me so, Al? Where have I gone wrong?"

[Al Downer's face registers excruciating pain as he searches the depths of his soul for a 'diplomatic' response, but finds the cupboard bare.]


Howard: "They smelled the blood on me this time, Al. All leaders must ultimately be sacrificed. And I am that sacrifice, in the highest place of all."

Downer: "History will remember you far more kindly than your critics. And if they harrass you, I will resign, and tell them why."

[Camera zooms out to show Downer's fingers crossed behind his back. Cut to concession speech]

18/11/07 11:59 PM  

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